My little girl—one missing clip-on earring, mix-matched princess dress and accessories, whimsy fairy tale come to life, clumsily twirling and dreaming up fantasies of riding a magical unicorn through sparkling clouds. Her storytelling imagination is boundless. She acts out the scenes from Frozen (again). Playful, messy, stubborn, sweet—all at once. At times, rougher than the boys, while on other occasions, you’ll find her applying lipstick (out-of-the-lines) and strapping a purse over her shoulder, pretending to be me. Daughters are after all, miniature us.
This four year old girl– my jelly bean–E, is a cute little artistic, silly ball of fury wrapped into a single package. She is not quite the tot that she was, but still not a “kid.” Life is one big play date, yet still, a rehearsal for the rest of her life. She longs for the moment that I put down the phone, stop the cleaning, and drop the to-do list. ”Mommy will you play with me?” she asks as I sigh and explain, again, that I am busy at the moment. “I’m always picking up after everyone, and there is only one me.” But if I’m brutally honest, mostly I’m busy because I struggle to ever sit still. Us moms get lost in our own checklists. As a result, we forget that they are the most important job that we will ever have. We forget that we are shaping them with every little lesson and interaction. Sometimes you have to check out in order to check in. We forget what is right in front of us–after all, this is just play. But to her, this is big important work. “Okay.” I have a minute to spare. She brings in her tiny plastic tea cups and wants to fill them with water. I secretly roll my eyes and think to myself that I am tired of wiping up spills. She wants to have a tea party. Right as I am about to suggest doing something else, I notice how enlivened she is. She wants to make me cupcakes to go along with my tea. “Which flavor do you want? I have yellow and purple,” she asks me, as if those were flavors. Just then, something comes over me, out-manning my fatigue. “Do you want to have a real tea party,” I propose, “like with real tea? And we can get your tea set.”
E loves getting out her porcelain tea set. It was recently passed down to her by her grandmother. She loves it so much, but the clanking of the cups and saucers makes me nervous (and maybe a tad crazy). I know that my kids have single-handedly managed to crush and tear things that survived generations before them. For this reason, I keep the tea set boxed up high where it has since been forgotten. I admit, I also “forget” to get it down because they will fill anything they can with water— to which it is not unheard of for my son to add water flavoring. I don’t think that I even need to elaborate on the resulting problem(s) caused by this red flavoring. The excitement bursts out of her body, “I’ll help make tea!” With her help, I get the tea set down and carry the box to the kitchen and begin washing each cup, plate, pot, and saucer. All of my stress from the day relaxes when I look over to E, who can’t help but to exude happiness. I begin to brew tea. “Hey, go get your brother. Tell him we are having a tea party with real tea.” He loves black tea with milk and sugar, so I figured he wouldn’t want to miss out.
When B comes into the kitchen and sees the party preparation, he runs away excitedly. I scoop sugar into the porcelain sugar dish as my daughter stands on the pulled up kitchen chair at my side. I explain to her that the other piece is supposed to hold the creamer as I pour milk inside. “Almost ready!” I let her know, and she runs off to her room to set out plates and cups with the help of her brother. She returns with her plastic fruits and begins to lay them out on a plate. I ask “what if we make real food? I can make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches real quick, and we can use cookie cutters to make them into pretty shapes. B pulls the container of cookie cutters from under the cabinet and scavenges through the various shapes as if on a mission. He wants stars and she wants hearts (I want hearts, too—I’m envisioning everything perfectly matching the girly-girl tea party theme just so). But hey, who cares? This is for them. And I cut four little pieces of pb&j—two in the form of stars, and two hearts. Wow, I’m surprised at how un-sloppily they turned out. I should have been doing this all along for sandwich dinners. “We did it! Let’s go have a tea party,” I exclaim as the three of us walk to E’s bedroom.
When we open the bedroom door, my son is so proud of his set up. He says, “I put pillows down as chairs and our table is in the middle.” Imaginary table, that is. There is chirping in the background. “I put bird music on the computer,” while demonstrating how he opened YouTube and searched specifically for bird sounds. Both children wear pride on their faces, they are ecstatic to be having a tea party with me—a real tea party! Taking turns pouring tea, E uses her very best lady-like etiquette (meanwhile B and I can’t stop laughing as we can’t seem to pour tea without spilling it). They regally scoop sugar out of the jar for one another, and we talk and giggle in between bites of pb&j. My heart swells with love watching them have so much fun.
I’m so glad that I did this. And maybe I shouldn’t be, but I’m proud of myself. I did something that I am awful at—I pushed aside the task(s) that I was so eager to complete today and was present for my babies. For this moment in time, I didn’t think about what I needed to do. I didn’t think about the extra cleaning that would be left behind for me after the tea was gone. I just was. We were. Together—making memories. It’s easy to forget during these exhausting, demanding years, but eventually their need to cling to us will fade. And in their physical places, these will be the best memories. Just let go. Trust me, the list will still be there waiting when you return. But for now, you are their everything and they are your escape from the mundane adult world. Just have the tea party!